‘Mario’ Makers Are Reviving the Rarest Levels from ‘Super Mario’

You can now play recreations of long-forgotten Super Mario Advance 4 e-Reader levels.
October 6, 2015, 6:15pm
One of the exclusive levels in Super Mario Advance 4. Image: adapted from Help Hack SMA4!!!!!/YouTube

Looking to play a bit of Nintendo history today? Well, you're in luck. Users on the Wii U subreddit have compiled a list of recreated Super Mario Advance 4 e-Reader stages, all recreated within the game and available to play on the Course World by plugging in the listed codes.

Wait, you ask, what on earth is the e-Reader, and what does it have to do with Mario?

The Game Boy Advance e-Reader is one of the most obscure pieces of official Nintendo hardware. It might not be quite as unknown as, say, the Satellaview, but it's one of videogame history's many oddball peripherals that didn't make the splash its developers hoped it would.

Released in Japan in 2001 and in North America in 2002—it didn't even show up in Europe, which says a fair bit about its market performance—the e-Reader basically functioned like a barcode reader for the Game Boy Advance. You'd plug the device into your system's cartridge slot, then slide cards (sold separately, of course) encoded with strips of data-containing dots through it. The e-Reader would then take that data and use it for various purposes.

There were numerous e-Reader cards released, most themed around Nintendo properties like Pokemon and Animal Crossing. (Certain Pokemon Trading Card Game sets had their cards equipped with a strip of e-Reader data.) A few "NES classics" were released in card form, allowing players to enjoy some mostly-forgotten launch-era NES games like Clu Clu Land.

In the case of Super Mario Advance 4, a re-release of the timeless classic Super Mario Bros. 3, the e-Reader offered a host of new content: special items, gameplay demos, and most tantalizingly, new levels.

It was a nice promise, but the execution was an absolute mess: the e-Reader unit was big and clunky, jutting out of the top of the GBA and not sitting flush with the released-soon-after Game Boy Advance SP. Cards didn't hold much data: the NES classics mentioned above came on multiple cards, all of which needed to be scanned perfectly—something that wasn't easy to do with the e-Reader's often finicky detection.The unit's onboard flash memory couldn't hold much data, either, so swapping games meant repeating this process a lot. Adding card-based content to existing games was even worse: Since the e-Reader occupied the cartridge slot, you had to have a second Game Boy Advance system that was running the actual game and connect the two by link cable in order to get all those nifty add-ons. It's no wonder why the e-Reader tanked, and more than half of the promised Super Mario Advance 4 e-Reader cards didn't even make it out in North America.

This meant that, for a very long time, the e-Reader levels of Super Mario Advance 4 were inaccessible to anyone who didn't have a pricey setup of e-Readers, multiple Game Boy Advances, and cards, some of which would need to be imported. (Either that or advanced knowledge on how to hack e-Reader data into a Game Boy Advance emulator.) But now Super Mario Maker has hit the scene, giving players the ability to create all-new levels—or, in this case, recreate the lost Super Mario Advance 4 levels.

While the levels aren't exact recreations—some used strange scrolling tricks or hazards unavailable in the current Mario Maker toolset—it's still an incredibly impressive effort. Why not give a few a try? Just don't get too angry at the flying beetle stage.